Fluid Paradigms Against the Dichotomized Vision of Art
Since it is sure of its ability to control the entire domain of the visible and the audible via the laws governing commercial circulation and democratic communication, Empire no longer censures anything. All art, and all thought, is ruined when we accept this permission to consume, to communicate and to enjoy. We should become the pitiless censors of ourselves. It is better to do nothing than to contribute to the invention of formal ways of rendering visible that which Empire already recognizes as existent.
– Alain Baduo
Axiom number 14 and 15, Fifteen Theses on Contemporary Art, Lacanian Ink.
The Bengalis have an enterprising ability to regurgitate words and thoughts originating from the West after they have been thoroughly exhausted or made passé by years of epistemic interventions – both in oral and textual forms. Take for example the enterprise of pitting 'high art' against 'low art'; if it is an issue that had afflicted the Western imaginary at one point of modern history, it still perverts our critical positions vis-à-vis cultural productions. In the Asian context, it now seems nothing short of a crime to set one's navigational logic utilizing this superfluous dyad. Similarly, all such misplaced interpretative frameworks based on worn-out dichotomies only produce regimes of misreading through continuous misrepresentation of both the spectacles produced under the aegis of the global and local capital circuits and the 'othered' or oppositional creations that act as resistance to them. A huge corpus of works that falls somewhere in between the two perceived poles seems to remain out of foci when we indiscriminately accept false polarities, letting them temper with the critical apparatuses we employ to see things in a clear light after having taken into account the relevant contexts.
Such a falsified frame of evaluation dilutes our discourses within or on art, and thwarts the actual enterprise of 'multi-faceted exploration' released with the hope of developing several aperçus or insights. By impacting our everyday conversation on art, they debase all exchanges, or traffic of ideas from the axis of insightful diegesis.
All essentialist, dichotomized takes on art are still food for thoughts for many in our clime, yet the crux of the matter is that not only do they (the dichotomies) fail us while we make efforts to provide a nuanced interpretation of the existing cultural trajectories, they also seem inadequate as we try and work through art as well as critical thoughts on art to arrive at some form of stable commentaries. Thus, the old and current patterns of global practices, both in artistic and discursive spaces, which we cannot overlook at this stage of advanced communication in the capital-driven globalized world, seem to occupy our consciousness without much positive consequences. As a result we are either turned into passive witnesses to acts of appropriation, aggrandization, or into vehicles for 'deft sophistry and grand simplification'.
Under the spell of any such trite opposition, our gaze seems to take little or no account of the 'ruling spectacle' before we even become aware of all the other regimes of artworks which, together with the rest, form the topography of the existing visual culture. Thus, we, simply retard our ability to be critical, partial and political, to draw on Baudelaire.
The role of the people who provide commentaries or critical reflections on art is also regularly being confused with that of the ethnographers, or worse, biographers whose object is to investigate the author/artist. Such an act simply precludes criticality of thinking, and is based on the misplaced notion that the empirical investigation that precedes all kinds of analytical efforts in reading and interpreting art are employed to the best interest of the artist.
Simply put, in absence of tools to devise a proper itinerary all such acts of navigation are out to annul the possibility of semiotic analysis, and on top of that, their acts depoliticize the cultural sites, as before committing to any form of dredging they confront the artist, the person behind the art. Therefore, whatever dredging are instigated, are done so without taking into cognizance the context, as such their efforts are devoid of the desire to make discoveries that are fundamental to 'close reading' of art. For example, the inquiry into signs, symbols and the associated meaning through a series of positions and juxtapositions against social semiosis, remain out of sight. Additionally, while we employ a predetermined interpretative framework, we fail to establish what is new in the midst of all the conventionally conceived sites, as the relationship between artistic and social processes, which is subject to continuous as well as erratic movements, are misconstrued as a 'constant'. The net result of such deflationary forms of practice is the proliferation of words which may suit the purpose of idolatry, but will surely corrupt the enterprise of criticism. To idolize the artist before even attempting to look hard critically into the artwork is to give credence to the misplaced notion of art being the product of an individual removed from all kinds of social processes responsible for the emergence of both individual and art. On top of that, when the 'doing' is completely eclipsed by the 'doer', we lose sight of the very ground where we are to unearth the truth; and it is the artwork that holds the truth, not the artist.
Though modernism enables us to arrive at a multiplicity of destinations through its flashpoints, it has mostly been, to the detriment of our own modernist brew, interpreted as a highfalutin act of surrender to a monolith as faithful accomplices of the ones who had propped it up in the first place. And in our clime, this has continuously been done to bring a sense of contemporaniety to the local culture, and that too in corresponding 'spectacles' (or, artworks as visual data) which have become the norms in the West.
Back in the 1930s, some Kolkata-based poets had once displayed enough misunderstanding vis-à-vis modernist position and its reductive tendencies, so did the Dhaka-based artists of the 1960s who had conceived of modernism through such a narrowed-down notional understating of it that the particular phenomenon can now be interpreted as a perverted 'negative monotheism', where the God is replaced by Western institutionalized knowledge and structure.
Aside from the deterministic overtone, the structuring of the modern through binary oppositions such as art-kitsch, high-popular, central- peripheral, as well as mainstream-outsider, all discussions on art/literature/archit-ecture is bound to miss the crossroads that have already been reached in all these fields. Through such frameworks, where the binaries are never reconciled, we often put forward easily arrived at conclusions setting one thing against the other while forgetting that reality is more nuanced than we can ever translate into knowledge or information. This is the reason why the indigenist modernists now seem far more fluid in their practices, and inclusive as well, compared to those who later emerged as purist modernists. The latter, with some exceptions, took to modernism as if it was a ground where one traversed on a linear/orderly fashion – just to be in perfect synchrony with the Western dissemination/circulation. Rather than constructing its analog, at a certain time in history, modern European rhythm has been injudiciously mimicked with some good, average and mostly dreadful results.
From within a fixed locus, the processes of standardization, sometimes framed through the fixities of traditions of both modern and traditional artistic paradigms, and currently through the exercises of the corporatized taste buds, have always been out of sync with reality or lived experience. That we try and cast our position as if it is a permanent locus by assigning to art a fixed sense of value, or by framing an identity around an easily-recognizable face/characteristic, is in itself an exercise in futility. Art, identity and our positions around them are as elusive as mortal existence as they evolve through time and change depending on the altered reality and our perceptions of it.
All binaries lead to a terminal state – the state of unreasoning, a state where things sort of congeal and die an untimely death. That is why we need to have forums in the public as well as in the artistic spheres in favour of the aesthetic coordinates that are in constant flux, and appears as unfathomable chaos which actually keeps us alert of the possible awakening of the creative, performative self that connects to the world in myriad different ways so that art-events or acts are brought into existence. This self must come with its irrational desires and the traces of the perceived original self, one which has long been denied any place due to our attentiveness to 'Socretic ethos', which Nietzsche vehemently opposed on the ground that intellect sort of downplay the process of redemption that is entrenched in life-experiences as well as the process of releasing the spirit of transcendence, which is the spirit that art needs in plenty.
Artist Joseph Beuys used to believe that 'art can create an element of backflow into life' enriching it, making it more attuned to our true needs. It may sound essentialist, or vitalist in formulation, but the fact that the body is capable of acting differently at various circumstances – especially when it is pushed to the zone of transcendence, from where the event of envisioning future art and society might take place, a liminal space which of course lies out of everydayness and regular patterns of socio-economic activities driven by an exact mission. It is important that in both life-making and in art-making, the body finds its freedom from the social/historical 'script' and enters an individual experiential zone, one which is bound up with the collective will to recreate the social or the real by making 'otherness' and, most importantly, utopia(s), possible.
'As long as art does not transcend and transgress its knowledge, it is not yet art', says Marcus Steinweg, the German philosopher. We would like to add to that the fact that reality and utopia are elements of one huge compendium, and without the sense of the beyond or the utopian we can never really understand the 'here and now' of our time. Art out of time is literally 'out of time'.
Marcus zooms in on the true mechanism that propels a society towards the production of art. In his thesis on art in Inaesthetik, a German art Journal, he concludes, 'Every genuine artwork is out of time. It always comes too early, always from the future, never from the past' adding that '[i]nstead of competing with documentation and historical work, art is an opening to the future.' So the attachment to the past through a revivalist impulse is actually a sham, and all good art practically deals with the past in a new way and comes up with images and ideas and art-events or acts that pave the way for the future by 'arriving early'.
One realizes that the idea of otherness and that of utopia, as they arise out of our existential patterns, or out of the will to construct the future existential matrices and the being who will reside among them, is already being inscribed in the present commentaries and discourses as a testimony of that being. And this is a theme that escapes many. As such, the false dichotomies haunt us even after their time. Our contention is that, rather than identifying viruses for which we are being apprehensive at every step of our journey, we should be behaving like 'germs' in the mainstream sludge of misreadings to avoid footfaults and that self indulging act of highfalutin naval gazing, which keep our gaze from departing from the make-believe stuffs. What Brian Wallis called 'an expanded notion of cultural production' concerned with constructing and sustaining a progressive counter-public sphere involving a wide range of actors and voices (Specters of Art by Yates McKee) is exactly what we expect to address and build on. Only a fluid praxis – modernist, revisionist- or newmodernsit, or even of other hues – will facilitate it, not the monochronic temporality and connected cultural structure some propose to make things appear as sensible, predictable and polite as the views of the Dhaka liberals.